The White Jaguar
As the title credits roll, we see a montage of the highlights and lowlights from the career of BURKE, 55, an environmental adventurer and conservationist.
– Film clip of a PBS documentary from 1978, showing a youthful Burke laughing as he runs back to the jeep, pursued by an enraged rhino.
– New York Times headline from August 11, 1991, “Congo Expels American Scientist for Plotting Revolution.”
– BBC video from 1991 of Congolese officials dragging Burke to an airplane, his hands in handcuffs.
– Burke on faded videotape, 1998, noisily ARGUING with the host of a low-rent cable talk show.
– Slow pan over magazine covers from the 1980s – National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Time – emblazoned with Burke’s aging face. The headlines read “Mr. Burke, I Presume?”,”Eco Adventurer with a Mission” and “Earth Crusader or Terrorist?”
– As the years pass, Burke’s hair grows thin and crows-feet blossom around his eyes.
INT. BURKE’S HOME – DAY
The montage fades into a slow pan down the “brag wall” in Burke’s home – faded photos of Burke with celebrities and politicians. All the photos are at least ten years old.
Burke, now older, wearied, sits on the dusty floor of his home, surrounded by stacks of books and magazines on Mexico and the Maya. He is shirtless and in shorts, though it is pouring rain outside and a fire CRACKLES in the fireplace.
An unseen hand places a cracked mug full of tea in front of him.
Burke GRUNTS a thank you.
Burke suddenly rips from a page from a book, holding the picture up in the gray light so he can get a better look at it. He smiles.
One more throw of the dice. One more throw…
EXT. ARCADIA POND – DAY
Arcadia Pond is a wetland paradise for birds. Thousands of them fill this tiny pond in the open prairie, 100 miles south of Chicago. In the dark waters of the lake, they are busy bathing, feeding and CHATTERING in excitement.
No people seem to be around to disturb this idyllic, natural scene.
Then there is slight, nearly imperceptible movement in the muddy grass surrounding the pond. The grass seems to move again.
It’s PETER FINCHLEY, 34, expertly concealed in a camouflage suit. Over the camo suit, he’s covered himself in wet grass and twigs. To complete the disguise, his face is smeared with mud.
Lying on the ground, Finchley silently watches the enormous flock and SNAPS off a couple photographs.
A light rain is falling and Finchley’s breath is visible in the chill air. He pauses to carefully make notes in a notebook with a dull pencil.
Just then, there is a COMMOTION among the birds. Their CHATTERING increases in intensity. Wings begin to flap and the pond stirs in alarm.
Then the whole enormous flock takes to the air, streaming in anxiety over Finchley.
He stands up, his cover now spoiled. He is wearing a jacket with a Nature Conservancy logo on it. The last straggler birds fly over and around him.
The flock trails away, to the horizon.
The pond is empty – not a single bird remains. The scene is DEATHLY SILENT.
The birds are now just a far-away speck in the morning sky. Finchley remains.
He raises his camera up and scans the horizon. He zooms in on the source of the disturbance.
INSERT – ZOOM LENS SHOT
Bulldozers are clearing land for a new subdivision, grinding away at a hillside just a couple miles from Arcadia Pond.
Finchley lets his camera drop to the mud. He slumps to the earth.
EIGHT HOURS LATER
The rain is over. The sky is now clear. But the birds have not returned. Bulldozers are still grinding away at the nearby hill, their lights on in the winter shadows.
Finchley remains seated in the mud, staring at the empty pond and the ceaseless work of the bulldozers.